HC Deb 20 July 2000 vol 354 cc532-3
11. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

If he will make a statement on the charging of VAT on the renovation of listed buildings. [130138]

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo)

The repair and renovation of listed buildings has been charged at the standard rate since the beginning of the tax.

Mr. Hoyle

I understand what my hon. Friend says. However, she may not be aware of the plight of the Rev. David Morgan and the parish church of Adlington in Chorley. He has genuine problems with church repairs. The church is a grade 2 listed building; what began as a simple exercise has incurred a cost of £145,000, and the VAT is more than £25,000. What help and consideration can be given to reducing VAT on listed buildings in future?

Dawn Primarolo

I understand that in the grants from English Heritage to grade 1 and grade 2 listed buildings, payments are made for urgent repairs, which my hon. Friend described. The conditions of VAT were established when the tax was introduced. We are not permitted to introduce reduced or zero rates. The Government therefore seek, through English Heritage and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to support our heritage through direct help.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

As the campaign has existed for about 15 years—I acknowledge that, some time in the past, I had to give the same answer as the Paymaster General—will the hon. Lady find a way to communicate the EU position to those who write to us? It would then become clear that the campaign has some serious deficiencies.

Dawn Primarolo

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, having given the same answers and having been a Minister when the legislation was operating, the Government cannot change it except in periods of review of the tax. We are not currently in such a period.

I have repeatedly made it clear to Members in detail when and why the imposition was made, when the tax began and what happened in 1984. Since that date, we have been unable to introduce zero or reduced rates. Therefore, the Government approach investment in historic and cultural buildings through methods other than VAT. As the Minister responsible for the tax at that time, the right hon. Gentleman will know that that is the only way forward, regardless of how strong feelings and campaigns are.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

But my hon. Friend will realise that although Treasury Ministers' habit of giving the same answers as their predecessors is not unknown, it is not a proper response to a proper worry. As a member of a very imaginative Treasury team, will she look seriously at some other way of tackling the problem? Frankly, English Heritage is not the answer. Such buildings consistently require not only that work be done by expensive craftsmen, but large sums of money. Destroying important buildings in the United Kingdom on the basis of being unable to change our tax system is not a sufficiently good answer.

Dawn Primarolo

The Government are always looking for innovative ways to use the tax system to encourage the type of behaviour that we would like to see in the UK. My hon. Friend will know that Lord Rogers' s urban taskforce report on regeneration of our communities made a series of important proposals that will be discussed as part of the consultation on the urban White Paper. Tax issues regarding brownfield and greenfield sites and other matters have been raised. We are looking at them seriously and will respond.